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Maths to 18 is good ambition, but sums must add up, AoC says

4th January 2023

Responding to reports of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's ambition to extend maths study to the age of 18, Catherine Sezen, AoC Education Director said: “To achieve the Prime Minister’s ambition for all young people to continue studying maths post-16 the sums must add up, with appropriate qualifications for students working at different levels, adequate staffing levels, and sustainable funding for colleges and sixth forms.

“To truly have an impact, this strategy must focus on the entire cohort of 16 to 18-year-olds, not just the roughly 275,000 who take A Levels. More than 300,000 of the 18-year-olds who remain in education are on other pathways – including BTECs and T Levels – while around 15% are in work, some are on apprenticeships and some not in education, employment or training at all. Numeracy skills are needed throughout life and adult learners should also be included in the drive to boost the nation’s mathematical ability.

“A thorough review and restructuring of maths from age 14, at least, is required given the unhelpful cliff-edge nature of GCSE maths and the negative barrier this creates for a third of young people at age 16 who are forced to resit their exams. The 2017 DfE-commissioned Smith report exploring post-16 maths said the GCSE resit policy, a 16-18 condition of funding, was an obstacle to maths for all because the curriculum was wrong. The department dismissed this at the time, but the point remains.

“Poor 16-18 funding is a big obstacle to recruiting and retaining staff to teach maths for all. Maths teacher recruitment incentives are paid to schools but not colleges and funding per student drops 20% at age 16 for no good reason – this requires urgent attention.

“It is right that the PM is taking an interest in education for 16 to 18-year-olds but speeches are the easy part. Progress needs an implementation plan based on evidence, backed by appropriate funding and not ignoring huge swathes of young people.

“The government-funded Centres for Excellence in Maths programme, which most colleges have been involved in, has shown how important it is to consider student motivation and engagement and promote mastery approaches in teaching maths post-16 to students who find it challenging.”

Update following speech:

Catherine Sezen, AoC Education Director said: “The Prime Minister has big ambitions, but to make this idea work you need appropriate qualifications, adequate staffing and sustainable funding for colleges and sixth forms. So far we have not heard the details from the Government about how this policy will be delivered.

“DfE only has money in its budget for a 2% increase in spending on 16 to 18-year-olds, so without extra cash we are likely to go backwards on this pledge in the short term. The Treasury forgot about 16 to 18-year-olds in the November budget and we are asking them to remedy this omission in their March statement.

“Three in five students (57%) do not currently continue maths after the age of 16, so a significant investment in the maths teaching workforce is required. Our figures show 44% of colleges are already struggling to hire enough maths teachers, so to make this add up we need a focused recruitment drive and incentives to be able to retain the teaching talent we already have.

“We are calling on the Prime Minister to extend teacher recruitment enticements for STEM subjects, which includes maths teachers, beyond schools to include colleges. The return of colleges to the public sector in the national accounts last month means there is no reason for this oversight to continue.”

Notes to editors

The Government has released a statement on the Prime Minister's maths to 18 ambition which can be read here.

AoC estimates that 43% of college students aged 16-18, or around 282,000, are currently enrolled on maths courses.

AoC’s English and Maths survey from 2022 showed 44% of colleges respondents had shortages in maths staff. Data can be found here.